Ford Motor Co.’s truck success extends beyond its 41-year streak building the top-selling F-Series full-size pickup.
The automaker also has a 39-year run as the industry leader in commercial vehicle sales. It’s on track to sell more than 900,000 commercial vehicles for the second year in a row.
Ford claims a 44 percent market share across seven weight classes of commercial vehicles, including medium-duty chassis cabs. Its four closest competitors — Chevrolet, GMC, Ram and Freightliner — have a combined 40 percent share.
Much of Ford’s recent dominance is due to the popularity of its Transit van nameplate, which includes a range of vehicles.
Ford’s smallest Transit van — the Connect — first went on sale in the U.S. as an import in 2009. The Transit Connect comes in both short- and long-wheelbase versions. Cargo versions are typically used by small businesses. Ford also sells the Connect in a passenger configuration. The company sold 34,473 Transit Connects last year. It imports them from Valencia, Spain.
In late 2014, Ford began producing its full-size Transit van outside Kansas City. It replaced the E-Series van that the company had sold since 1961.
Since the full-size Transit went on sale, industry-wide van sales have jumped 23 percent. Ford says Transit is responsible for 78 percent of that growth and that the nameplate accounts for nearly four of every five vans sold.
The bigger Transit is super versatile. There are four wheelbase choices and three roof heights. It comes in van, wagon or chassis cab configurations. It’s also available as a cutaway chassis for manufacturers that build special application vehicles such as ambulances.
Transit also is a favorite of custom fabricators and upfitters.
Transit “is the perfect vehicle for the weekend warrior,” said Jared McCauslin, chief operating officer of VanDoIt Adventure Vans, a custom van maker based in Kansas City.
One of VanDoIt’s conversions serves as a family hauler during the week and an excursion van on weekends. The seven seats in the high-roof Transit were reconfigured to make room for a hydraulic lift. That left room underneath for an extruding platform for up to five bicycles.
On its website, VanDoIt advertises custom conversions from $38,000 to $88,000, comparable to the price of a luxury SUV.
Mobile businesses also make use of the Transit. John Early, owner of The Shoe Shine Guys, has a mini shoe repair shop inside his custom van. He visits businesses whose employees drop off shoes for shining and repairs. Early and his wife, Janet, who are based in Canton, Mich., also service weddings and corporate events with onsite shines.
Traditional conversions also make up a big part of Transit business. Mobile office builder Havis Inc. converts several hundred cargo vans a year for customers who transport prisoners.
“We provide seat belts and a wrap strap in the back, so when [passengers] are cuffed they can hold themselves into the seat,” said Ron Moore, a Havis salesman. Double cam latches make closing the doors sound like slamming cell doors.
The vans come with 50- or 60-inch ceilings. The lower configurations prevent passengers from standing and manipulating the vehicle with their weight. “You don’t want the roof too high because you don’t want to give the prisoners too much height control,” Moore said.